Jordan Baker in
“The Great Gatsby”
A Static Character
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October 4, 2004
The turn of the century in 1900 was a very busy time for America. New scientific discoveries were being made and new theories about social issues were being published. After “The Great War” (WWI), America let out a collective sigh of relief and finally began to have a good time. This period is referred to as “The Jazz Age” or “The Roaring Twenties.” Many authors tried to capture this time of quick riches, smooth jazz, and crazy parties, but only one published a masterpiece that has stood the test of time. In 1925, F. Scott Fitzgerald wrote what many scholars hail as the greatest American novel. On the outside, “The Great Gatsby” is about the petty lives and affairs of these rich upper crust socialites. If you read deeper though, it is a poignant commentary on what money will do to people in pursuit of their own American dream. Of the many characters that Fitzgerald uses to do this, there is one that supports his view that money doesn’t change everybody. Even though Jordan Baker is a golf star and a mover and shaker in the social scene surrounding New York City, she is a static character.
One way in which F. Scott Fitzgerald reveals that Jordan Baker is static is through her appearance. The expressions on Jordan’s face tell us how she views the world. On page 15, when Jordan is first introduced to us, Nick, the narrator, describes her: “Her grey sun-strained eyes looked back at me with polite reciprocal curiosity out of a wan, charming discontented face.” We find that although she is in the upper crust of society, being a golf star, she has some reason to remain unsatisfied. As the summer goes by, she starts getting to know Nick better and he realizes where that smile might come from. “The bored haughty face that she turned to the world concealed something…she had begun dealing in subterfuges when she was very young in order to keep that cool insolent smile turned to the world and yet satisfy the demands of her hard jaunty body.” (page 63) Her place in society (and her right to it) might be questioned unless she puts on that aloof, condescending exterior. Even when she is dating Nick towards the end of the novel, she still has the same look on her face. “Her wan scornful mouth smiled and so I drew her up again, closer, this time to my face.” (page 85) This is such a deeply felt sense of disadvantage that she can’t relax, even when she is with the one she loves. This is the same Jordan Baker we see on page 15. Clearly her expressions, and therefore her outlook on life, remained static.
Another way that Fitzgerald maintains Jordan Baker as a static character is through symbolism in both color and setting. Jordan is a very social person and she loves to listen to people, especially about their private affairs. “…two young women were both in white dresses…She was extended full length at her end of the divan, completely motionless and with her chin raised a little as if she were balancing something on it which was quite likely to fall.” (pages 12 & 13) Jordan enjoys knowing about others’ personal problems but doesn’t like to get too involved. When people are arguing and she happens to be in the room, she pretends to be concentrating on something else. Her white dress could symbolize that she remains pure or unconnected, even in the midst of her friends’ dramas. Before the final showdown between her friend Daisy’s husband and lover, Jordan is shown with her white dress again. “Daisy and Jordan lay upon an enormous couch, like silver idols, weighing down their own white dresses against the sighing breeze of the fans.” (page 122) Up to this point, Jordan has remained “clean.” Near the end of the book, during the actual argument, she stays true to form. “ I glanced… at Jordan who had begun to balance an invisible but absorbing object on the tip of her chin.” (page 141) She is there to support Daisy but tries to be unobtrusive at the same time. Jordan is then, the same woman that she was before.
Some people might argue that Jordan Baker is a dynamic character. At the very first dinner party, Nick describes her voice: “She read aloud to him…the words, murmurous and uninflected, running together in a soothing tone.” (page 22) This would suggest she was happy and calm. Content with the relationships she allows near her. Then near the end of Nick and Jordan’s relationship, he says this: “Usually her voice came over the wire as something fresh and cool as if a divot from a green golf links had come sailing in at the office window but this morning it seemed harsh and dry.”(page 162) Some people might say this is evidence of a change but I see other reasons why her voice took a sudden turn. Just the night before, she had witnessed a horrible accident where a woman was killed, and later that same night, her boyfriend Nick didn’t want to see her. So she might have still been a little shocked from the events of the previous night, but because she remained emotionally uninvolved in the problems of her friends, it wasn’t enough to shift her whole perspective on life. The last time Nick sees Jordan, she seems much the same as when he met her in the beginning. She is self confident and aloof, and plans to stay that way for a very long time no matter what changes and turmoil take place in the lives of her friends around her.
Finally, we know that Jordan Baker is a static character through her actions, in particular, her movements. Fitzgerald, through Nick, describes her as being “jaunty.” This means that Jordan has a well-bred, easy sprightliness. She’s lively and affects an airy self- satisfaction (OED) “I noticed that she wore her evening dress, all her dresses, like sports clothes—there was a jauntiness about her movements as if she had first learned to walk upon golf courses on clean, crisp mornings.”(page 55) This shows us that she is in good shape and has developed her posture so that her sporting life shows through no matter what she wears; she is used to projecting an air of victory and self-assuredness. In the middle of the summer, we see Jordan again through Nick’s eyes. “I put my arm around Jordan’s golden shoulder and drew her toward me and asked her to dinner. Suddenly I wasn’t thinking of Daisy or Gatsby any more but of this clean, hard, limited person who dealt in universal skepticism and who leaned back jauntily just within the circle of my arm.” (page 84) We can see that although things have developed between these two characters, she still holds herself the same way, perhaps physically close to people, but still emotionally holding back because of her skeptical personality. The very last time Nick sees Jordan confirms the fact that she is static. “…she lay perfectly still listening in a big chair. She was dressed to play golf and I remember thinking she looked like a good illustration, her chin raised a little, jauntily, her hair the color of an autumn leaf, her face the same brown tint as the fingerless glove on her knee. ” (page 185) The final time Nick sees Jordan, she still has that same lively air about her. Clearly, her actions, through movement, are constant throughout the novel.
In “The Great Gatsby,” F. Scott Fitzgerald maintains that Jordan Baker is a static character through her appearance, her symbolism through color and setting, and her actions. I think that Jordan was Fitzgerald’s way of letting us know that you can be close to money and fame, enjoy it, and yet still not be changed by all that surrounds you. She lived the crazy life of a golf star and social butterfly in the “Roaring Twenties” and yet remained the same person she was from the beginning. This gives us hope that we might be able to do the same here in the Twenty First century. I think we all possess the hope that someday we might achieve riches and greatness; but at the same time, are afraid that we will be changed by the power and influence that wealth brings. Jordan Baker had both fame and money, but in the end remained the same skeptical, lively, self-assured person she always was; a hope that attaining the American dream does not always corrupt the dreamer.